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At first I take up T’ai Chi as a hobby,
Gradually I become addicted to it,
Finally I can no longer get rid of it.
I must keep on practicing for my whole life—
it is the only way to preserve health.
The more I practice, the more I want to learn
from teachers and books.
The more I learn, the less I feel I know.
The theory and philosophy of T’ai Chi is so
profound and abstruse!
I must continue studying forever and ever…
It is the only way to improve and better myself.

~ T.T. Liang



Tai Chi

The longer one practices and studies T’ai Chi Ch’uan the more difficult it can become to answer the question "What is T’ai Chi?" Students of the art develop a general understanding, while each practitioner cultivates a deeply personal understanding and experience. What follows here is meant to give you a general idea of T’ai Chi Ch’uan, to spark your curiosity, and open the way to further study.


T’ai Chi Ch’uan is often translated literally as "Great Ultimate Boxing.”  Others prefer to translate T'ai Chi Ch'uan as “Yin/Yang Boxing.” Regardless, T’ai Chi Ch’uan is a Chinese internal martial art, practiced throughout the world by millions of people of all nationalities and ages for its health and meditative benefits, as well as a powerful and transforming martial art.

T’ai Chi is sometimes called a "moving meditation" and "meditation in motion." T’ai Chi form work is generally studied and performed as a series of choreographed movements, coordinating the mind, body and breath, and practiced for its health and meditative benefits. T’ai Chi can also be practiced as a two person exercise as a powerful, internal martial art.

T’ai Chi is generally considered to be a whole body Qigong (Ch’i Kung). Qi is defined as life energy, breath or breath energy, our essential vitality. Gong is defined as work. Thus Qigong is life energy work, breath work, internal energy cultivation. Some discuss T’ai Chi and Qigong as distinct but related arts. We prefer to understand T’ai Chi as a form of Qigong.

Internal Systems
Professor Michael Raposa in Meditation and the Martial Arts writes that “martial arts known as ‘external’ are intended primarily to enhance bodily strength, speed, and stamina, toughening the hands and feet, while developing the musculature.  In contrast, the internal arts are devoted specifically to the talk of generating qi (or ch’i, or vital energy, the Chinese equivalent to the Japenese ki) and circulating it throughout the body.  The ability to produce and then control this internal energy can be useful for fighting purposes.  At the same time, the flow of qi bathes the major organ systems, cleansing joints and strengthening tendons and ligaments, so that the practice of these arts is also considered to be quite healthful.” 

One legend states that T’ai Chi Ch’uan was founded by a Taoist monk and martial arts practitioner, Chang San Feng, who lived in the Sung dynasty (AD 960-1279). According to the legend Chang San Feng witnessed a battle between a crane and a snake. The snake was able to recoil and dodge to escape the crane’s attack, and then launch his own attack. The crane was able to use its wings to softly cover the snake. After the fight, the snake slithered back to its hole and the crane flew off to the tree. This inspired Chang San Feng to develop T'’ai Chi Ch’uan, creating movements to conform with the Taoist ideas of softness and yielding, and combining these movements with Taoist breathing techniques.

The principles of T’ai Chi are based on the Yin and Yang circle. The T’ai Chi Classics say that T’ai Chi springs from Wu Chi, the primordial state of the universe, also described as the void, the limitless, nothingness. Wu Chi, represented by an empty circle, gives birth to T’ai Chi, the mother of the Yin/Yang polarity, the source of motion and tranquility.

The Yin/Yang polarity is the balancing of opposites, complementary parts of one whole. Yin, originally referred to the dark shadowed side of a mountain (the northern slope), and Yang was the bright illuminated side (the southern slope). The Yin/Yang polarity represents the balancing of soft and hard, negative and positive, passive and active, female and male. Cheng Man-ch’ing writes that "T’ai chi’s philosophy of the soft overcoming the hard and concentrating your ch’i for softness is based on the I Ching, the Nei Ching and the Tao Te Ching."

We find that the greatest power, efficiency, and timing, are achieved through the union of opposites: yin and yang, hard and soft, fast and slow, assertiveness and yielding.

T’ai Chi Ch’uan is based on certain principles and qualities of movement and attention, to cultivate a sense of rootedness, balance, calm, softness, release, and focus. The mind, body and spirit are joined as one combines movement with attention and breath to cultivate relaxation, the release of stress and tension from the body and mind, to develop a greater sense of overall well-being, and to foster mindfulness. The movements are designed to help balance the flow of qi or energy in the body. All of these benefits can lead a practitioner to experience quiet meditative joy within movement.

The health benefits of T’ai Chi Ch’uan are well documented. T’ai Chi helps relieve feelings of tension and stress. T’ai Chi can help with blood pressure and improve one’s blood circulation. T’ai Chi is said to benefit people suffering from arthritis and injuries. It can also help facilitate proper digestion, improve the functioning of the kidneys, and develop deep, natural breathing.

T’ai Chi Ch’uan martial work furthers one’s understanding of the principles of the system, giving one the opportunity for practical application of the principles of yielding, softness and rootedness. One learns to develop a greater sense of awareness of his or her self, energy, body, as well as one’s experience of conflict. One also learns how to develop a greater awareness of others. By learning this sensitivity, and combining it with softness, yielding and rootedness, one can learn to transform unpleasant or hostile interactions, making them more productive and perhaps even positive. The old Taoist masters often said that water can cut through stone and that a soft tongue lasts into old age better than hard teeth.

T’ai Chi solo work and two person work are complementary parts of one system. Both are appropriate for anyone of any age, size, sex, ability, or health. The system, whether its solo or two-person work, is designed to adapt to conform to the needs and proclivities of the practitioner, becoming a manifestation of each person. All students are encouraged and given the opportunity to pursue two-person work, although there is no requirement.

The more one studies the system, and the more one learns and understands, the more one realizes how much greater the system is. In addition, the more one studies the more personal his or her experience becomes. With time, one comes to see T’ai Chi as a manifestation of one’s character, and can provide a path towards self-discovery.

We hope you will consider joining us in our study and exploration of this ancient, wonderful and transforming system.


To begin to understand the nature of Qigong, it helps to begin with a translation, of which there are many. The shorthand translation we most often use is “life-force energy (Qi) cultivation (gong)” or “internal energy work.” Kenneth S. Cohen, renowned Qigong master, China scholar and one of our teachers, defines Qigong as the “art and science of regulating internal energy to improve health, calm the mind and condition the body for martial arts and other sports.” In addition Mr. Cohen has said that Qigong means “working with life energy, learning how to control the flow and distribution of Qi to improve the health and harmony of mind and body.”

Qigong, which encompasses a broad range of practices and systems, was developed over thousands of years in China. Mr. Cohen writes that Qigong is a “wholesale system of self-healing exercise and meditation, an ancient, evolving practice that include healing posture, movement, self-massage, breathing techniques and meditation.” For example, there are both active and passive forms of Qigong, including sitting and standing, stillness and movement (slow, fast and explosive), and formal and informal (or spontaneous) practices.

Don Ethan Miller, three-time national Push Hands champion and master T’ai Chi teacher (and another of our teachers) has said that Qigong is “anything that you do which integrates the mind and body.” This means that Qigong can be as simple as attending to your movement while walking through a park, or can be as sophisticated as highly choreographed movement sequences lasting 30 minutes or more and taking many years to master.

Self-improvement through the practice of mind-body (breath and spirit) systems is not unique to China. Indeed most every indigenous culture and major religion has some form of Qigong-like practice for self-improvement and spiritual enhancement. Specifically, Chinese Qigong commonly incorporates extensive and refined visualizations, along with a breadth of application of mind-body practice to improve one’s success in anything one does.


Some people have said that there are more than 60,000 Qigong systems in China. There are Qigong systems that are primarily for self-healing such as the Soaring Crane Qigong and the Primordial Qigong that we teach at Full Circle Synergy. In addition, there are Qigong systems that have powerful applications for both self-healing and self-defense such as T’ai Chi Ch’uan (Taiji Quan), which we teach as both a martial and healing practice. There are also primarily martial Qigong systems like the internal martial arts of Bagua Zhang and Xing Yi Quan.

The essential nature of Qigong is the developing of one’s ability to pay attention to what one is doing, and what is happening. The ability to be present, to join one’s mind and attention with one’s body and spirit provides the basis to cultivate internal energy, promoting greater health and vitality, more relaxation, and relief from chronic stress and anxiety. While amazing powers and results have been attributed to the practice of Qigong on a daily basis we find that it cultivates:

  • A stronger sense of being both calm and energized.
  • A greater sense of being present within one’s body and improved awareness of one’s surroundings.
  • Improved balance and greater enjoyment of the movements of the body, mind and spirit.
  • A greater skill to release the stress and tension of life that can so easily get stuck inside.

Qigong is being used in all kinds of ways and places to promote healing and wellness. Respected and validated research has found that Qigong can improve posture and respiration, promote relaxation, improve blood chemistry, and foster greater concentration. It has also been found to be beneficial for a variety of illnesses, including asthma, arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, headaches, pain and other common ailments.

The relationship between the mind and body is becoming more widely accepted and recognized. And Qigong is becoming more widely known in the West. Qigong (and T’ai Chi) were mentioned in Newsweek magazine article entitled “The New Science of Mind and Body” (9/27/04). Doctors from Harvard Medical School wrote that “Over the past three decades, scores of studies have confirmed the benefits of what we call the ‘relaxation response,’ a state of mental calm during which your blood pressure drops, your heart and breathing slow, and our muscles become less tense.” These doctors recommended T’ai Chi (and as such Qigong) among other exercises and techniques as a means to calm the mind and relieve stress, and thereby promote greater health and mitigate some of the ravages of chronic stress.

Newsweek also discussed that Qigong and T’ai Chi were being used by patients at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston to help them sleep better, cope with the pain, anxiety and depression, and to enhance their immune systems.

In other news, a recent study has found a link between stress and memory. Dr. Amy F. T. Arnsten, of Yale Medical School, reported a study in the journal Science, which found that stressful situations activate an enzyme in the brain that impairs short-term memory. Certainly relaxation practices like Qigong can relieve some chronic stress and as such may help improve memory.

It is empowering to take charge of your own health and to maintain your own internal calm and integrity through a Qigong self-healing practice that emphasizes sensitivity, balance and yielding as the most powerful path to success. For those unacquainted with Qigong the idea of “life-force energy cultivation (or energy work)” may sound hokey or fantastical. As our culture and our language have little experience with Chinese Qigong we are forced to approximate our experience with imprecise words. All we ask is that you suspend your disbelief – if any – and your desire for instant results – if any – and explore what we have to offer.

One may practice just breathing, incorporating visualization and physical techniques to deepen and soften the breath. One may practice different systems of standing and moving, cultivating one’s internal energy, relaxing and opening the body for improved health and serenity. One may also practice martial arts, including T’ai Chi Chuan, which is itself a form of Qigong.

The benefits of Qigong are now widely known and accepted. We would love to share our knowledge and love of the art with you.


About Tai Chi